Thursday, November 1, 2012

After the War: A Glut of Goods

A ship from a Baltimore Album Quilt
ca 1845
The Quilt Complex

In New York City, so the story goes, a dry goods merchant named John Robins had been doing well during the War of 1812.
 "He purchased entire cargoes of such vessels as had successfully run the blockade and come into the harbor, or were smuggled through Canada." In early 1815 he heard "a large lot of dry goods was advertised to be sold at auction at the Tontine Coffee House... There were a thousand cases of dry goods to be sold. Whether they had run the blockade safely, or been smuggled through Canada, I cannot say. The goods were at a warehouse in Pine Street. They had been exhibited a week. There were buyers here from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Albany and every city around.

The Tontine Coffee House by Francis Guy (1760-1820).
 The building on the left was a meeting place
 for trading and public auctions.

"The Saturday bidding was very spirited, and the highest prices of the war were reached; the commonest samples of unwashable calicoes brought fifty to seventy-five cents a yard, such as to-day would sell at three cents.

"Everybody outbid Mr. Robins...About dark the sale closed. Every package had been sold. John Robins had bought none. He felt annoyed. His stock of goods on his shelves did not amount to but a few dollars, a few remnants of calicoes, which he could have carried on his shoulder. He went to bed about eight o'clock, sick of his hard luck. He had just began to drowse, when he heard some one down William Street shout 'peace.' "

 "Henry Laverty['s] store was heaped up with goods bought at the auction...Mr. Laverty was walking rapidly up and down the store and swearing like a trooper....There were no buyers... He would sell for half price...

By Monday "every auctioneer was busy selling goods of all kinds for a mere song." Robins felt lucky enough to tell the story of his auction experience with a dig perhaps at Laverty, who'd taught him the drygoods business.

Battle of New Orleans by Esther Magafan
 The War of 1812 ended on Christmas Eve 1814 when English and American diplomats agreed in the city of Ghent to end hostilities and return to pre-war boundaries. The British returned Maine which they'd been occupying and the Americans returned the area near present-day Ontario to British North America.
News of the treaty and its February ratification did not reach the United States until weeks later. Andrew Jackson led troops against the British in New Orleans and won. Henry Laverty gambled on calicoes and lost.


Philadelphia Fourth of July 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel
Philadelphians feted the War's heroes for years.

John Robins was not the only New York dry goods merchant to benefit from the peace. The city, smaller than Philadelphia and Boston, enjoyed a post war boom. Robert Greenhalgh Albion in a history of the port of New York attributed part of the growth (much of it was due to the Erie Canal) to English imports.

"New York's rapid commercial rise...was stimulated when the British selected it as the center of their 'dumping' operations early in 1815. A huge surplus of textiles and other manufactures had been piling up in England during the years when the war had interrupted trade with America and the Continent; and manufacturers were naturally ready to sell them for whatever they might bring."

Ackermann's Repository in May 1810 included
swatches of fashionable fabrics of English manufacture,
 goods that had no market during the Napoleonic Wars.
 They piled up in English warehouses and
bankrupted weavers, printers and drapers.

What were they dumping?  The warehouses were packed with goods that had been waiting for peace.
I am guessing among the bolts---- many yards of panels, palm trees and small multi-color prints.


Textile historians have long characterized this print
 as one that was dumped after the War.
Ackermann's Repository July 1809
 The small multicolored calico prints.
Some references on the post-war textile trade
Joseph Alfred Scoville The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 2, T. R. Knox, 1885.

 Robert Greenhalgh Albion The Rise of New York Port, 1815-1860. NY Charles Scribner; Sons 1939 (republished 1970)



kathyinozarks said...

I found this very interesting-thank you

WoolenSails said...

Really great history on the sale of fabrics during the war. I always say, things happen for a reason and when I don't get something I want, I know that I was better off without it, lol.


Every Stitch said...

A fascinating post - thanks. Can you imagine "dumping" some of those glorious fabrics!! No doubt some amazing bargains were to be had - just hope they were appreciated and well used.
best wishes
Every Stitch

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